Women of Legal Tech: Talitha Gray Kozlowski Says to Avoid Surprises and Achieve Through Grit

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Talitha Gray Kozlowski, partner at Garman Turner Gordon and COO of LAWCLERK.Legal, sits down for a Q&A on rising above belittling comments, her nerve-wracking case two days after passing the bar, and more.

By Monica Bay | January 03, 2019 at 07:00 AM – Legaltech news

There’s a shortage of women in science, technology, engineering and math. And there’s still a 17 percent gender gap in pay—across the board—in the legal profession (18 percent at Big Law firms). But within the legal technology community there are many women with thriving careers. Monica Bay recently interviewed Talitha Gray Kozlowski, partner at Garman Turner Gordon and COO of LAWCLERK.Legal. She is based in Las Vegas.

Education: I received a B.A. from the University of Arizona in 2001 and a J.D. from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in 2004. I am admitted in Nevada.

Current job: I am a partner at Garman Turner Gordon, a boutique law firm in Las Vegas.

Our partners (nine of us) formed the firm in 2015. I am also a co-founder and chief operating officer of LAWCLERK.Legal, launched in Jan. 2018. (The co-founders are Greg Garman and Kristin Tyler.) It connects solo attorneys and small firms with our network of 1,400+ U.S. freelance lawyers, providing assistance without adding full-time employees.

At any point in your education did you consider a career in science, technology, engineering or math? When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut. My parents teased that I should be a lawyer as I was prone to debate. In high school, I took advanced placement math, science and English classes. Ultimately, a law degree seemed like the perfect option. Looking back, I was right: I am now both a lawyer and the co-founder of a legal tech company.

Your first paid job? It was as a dishwasher—at a delightfully vibrant family-owned Greek restaurant.

Your first seat at the table. It was my first year as a lawyer when the named partner tasked me with drafting an opposition based on a narrow constitutional law issue in one of the firm’s bigger cases. The opposing party responded to my six-page opposition with a 15-page reply brief accompanied by hundreds of exhibits. If volume was relevant to winning, I was sure to lose.

Two days before the hearing, I got news that I had passed the bar. My senior partner was delighted that I could now argue the matter. I was flummoxed! I walked into the court to find not only Las Vegas counsel, but also three New York attorneys. It was just me against these experienced giants. And, we had a visiting judge—someone I had never met or seen. I nearly passed out.

The senior New York partner confidently took the podium and began his argument. He was smooth, confident and dismissive of my erroneous constitutional argument. I thought I was sunk. The judge listened patiently without comment, which, in my inexperience, led me to conclude that the judge agreed with my opposing counsel. After what felt like an eternity, the judge interrupted his argument asking, “Do you have anything to tell me that is not in your pleadings, because I find Ms. Gray’s argument compelling and am inclined to deny your motion.” My heart lifted, my stomach steadied, and I managed to find my voice as I took the podium. I won!

Most flagrant sexism you personally encountered and how did you address it? The sexism I have faced has come in the form of belittling comments and assumptions rooted in the belief that being an attorney is a man’s job. I have been called “honey” and “sweetheart” by opposing counsel when they want to ignore or dismiss my point (“Okay, sweetheart, but….”). When taking a hard line, I have been called a “bitch” or other derogatory terms, while my male counterparts are revered as “tough” for the exact same behavior. And despite being introduced by my fellow male attorneys as their “colleague” or “associate” and despite always being in a full suit when meeting these clients, countless times, I have had male clients ask me to get them coffee or tell me they assumed I was the secretary until I started discussing their case strategy with them. In these instances, more often than not, I simply disregard the comments. My approach has been to ignore these patronizing and belittling comments and to proceed with my advocacy—not because they are not offensive or indicative of a deep-rooted belief that I am inferior because I am a woman, but because I do not want to give them power or importance.

Far more troubling are the circumstances where male attorneys publicly discounted my successes when I was younger, by claiming that it had nothing to do with my experience, skill and effort, and instead were the result of my female anatomy. In one of the more offensive examples, a male partner from a large regional firm and I were pitching for the same case. The client ultimately selected me as the company’s counsel. The male attorney that I beat out for the case then proceeded to tell other male attorneys in my community that the client had only selected me because the client liked my “tits.” When the comments got back to me, of course I expressed my disgust, but I didn’t do anything further. Looking back at this, I wish I had confronted the attorney about his statements. I feel confident that if it happened today, I would handle it very differently.

Secret to your success: There is no secret: hard work, determination, a bit of luck, and unwavering belief that you control your success. I’d love to be the smartest woman in the room and have things come easily, but I am not that fortunate. My success is because I do whatever it takes to meet my objectives and I am always raising the bar.

Work tips re: “managing up:” I have two pieces of advice that I learned early on. First, avoid surprises. With the sole exception of gifts and wedding proposals, no one, especially management, like surprises. Make sure the people you work with and report to are up to speed on pertinent issues. Second, but equally important, tackle problems as soon as they arise. Problems are not like fine wines—they do not improve with age.

Advice for young women: Because of the incredible women who have come before us, we now have the luxury of being anything we choose. Exercise this gift. Be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Formulate life-saving medications. Start a technology company. Become a renowned lawyer.

Achieving your goals is about commitment; it is about grit. There will be people who tell you that you cannot do it—they are wrong. There will come a time when you make a mistake—learn from it and keep going. There will be hard decisions—don’t be afraid to make them. When it seems like you should just quit—don’t. You are stronger and more resilient than you know and if you commit, proceed undeterred, and put in the effort, you will succeed.

Five favorite technology tools: SlackInstapageMileIQThings 3, and Zoom.

Book that inspired you? “The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World,” by Brad Stone. I read it during the initial weeks after our startup, LAWCLERK, launched. It felt like a roller coaster ride. Every new user is thrilling and every issue makes your stomach drop. The Upstarts reminded me that bigger obstacles have been overcome, and we must pave our own path to success as no two companies have done it the same way.

Favorite vacation venue: My next unexplored spot. My husband, Joe Kozlowski, is a creature of habit. He finds a wonderful place (San Sebastian, Spain or Laguna, California) and wants to return and relive the great experience. While I understand his desire for familiarity, I love to experience new places, food, and culture. There is something incredible about being in an unfamiliar place and exploring it until it becomes familiar, until it becomes a part of you.

Your mantra: Three simple words from a joyful blue fish probably sum it up best: “Just keep swimming.” I know that if I just keep pressing forward, even if it is one small step at a time, I can overcome any obstacle and achieve any goal.

Favorite quote: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” which is commonly attributed to George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans in the 19th century).